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Why do we Experience Pains in Lower Back?

RC: Hello everyone, this is Liz Harvey coming to you from our razorcast™ studios in New York City where we are dedicated to bringing you cutting edge interviews from many of the leading industry professionals across the United States.

In today’s episode, we are speaking with Dr. Matthew Phinney. Dr. Phinney is the founder of The Chiropractor Doctors in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he is committed to improving the health and vitality of his community through chiropractic and wellness care. He is originally from Toronto Canada and he graduated Bishop’s University in Quebec Canada and then from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport Iowa. Dr. Matthew Phinney is widely considered to be one of the top chiropractors specializing in holistic and alternative health in the country and he is also a contributing member of our national network of industry professionals.

Today we are going to talk about a very important topic: Low Back Pain

RC: Hi Dr. Phinney. How are you today?

Dr. Matthew Phinney: Hey Liz I’m doing great. How are you?

RC: I’m doing great thanks.

Question 1: Why do so many people experience an achy pain in their lower back?

RC: So the first question I have today is why do so many people experience an achy pain in their lower back? It seems to be a very common problem for young people as well as more mature people.

Dr. Matthew Phinney: That’s a great question, Liz. I appreciate you asking me that. You know, in one of the studies I just recently read, they estimate that 8 out of 10 or 80% of people will experience some sort of significant back pain at some point in their life.

One of the things really I attribute a lot of it to, is what we do on a daily basis. And what do most of us do? We sit. We sit at a desk every single day in a chair all day long. As far as our kids, we put them at a desk from the age of about five when they start kindergarten or sometimes four if they are in preschool. We sit them at a desk again same thing 6, 7, 8 hours a day all day long and we expect there is going to not be sort of physical repercussions for that.

So from purely a biomechanical structural standpoint, anytime that you’re sitting all day long, it forces you to round out your lower back and you can lose curve. There’s a curve that you’re supposed to have in the lower back in order for it to properly support your body.

Have you ever sat in front of a desk like in front of a computer and sat up nice and straight for the entire time you were there? What happens is we start to get tired or we start to think about something else and we start to slouch and we shift forward and it puts a tremendous amount of stress and strain on those sensitive structures, those discs and those joints of the spine. That’s what causes them to get irritated, that’s what causes them to get inflamed and that’s what causes them also to become very uncomfortable or painful.

One of the things they are talking about now is they are talking about sitting being like the new smoking. And they are saying that sitting is like smoking in the sense that if you smoke cigarettes no matter what else you do it’s still going to be bad for you. So you can smoke cigarettes and run ten miles every day and go exercise and eat fresh raw fruits and vegetables, have the healthiest diet in the world but if you still smoke there is still a very high probability that you’re going to say, get lung cancer.

You know same thing as far as sitting. A lot of people sit and they say well I went to the gym this week or I went and did a stretch this morning and they think that that cancels out that sitting. And what they’re finding is that people who are sitting all of those other things that you’re doing that are positive for you, they’re not canceling out the negative effects the deleterious effects sitting has on the spine.

So yeah I think that’s a big problem that we have nowadays is that we’re sitting, sitting, sitting all day long. Very tough on the body, very tough on the spine and we’re starting to now see the effects of that more and more and more as people are getting older.

RC: Okay great and I know people talk about the core, strengthening the core and that helps everybody stand up straight. It’s a touchy subject for me – all the core workout we’re all supposed to be doing and I try and fail.

Question 2: Does weight gain trigger back pain?

RC: Let’s move on to weight gain which is another issue for most people, does weight gain trigger back pain?

Dr. Matthew Phinney: Great question. You know as far as triggering back pain….if we were to just say strictly, you know if you’re heavy – you have gained some weight – then you’re going to have back pain. If that were the case then everybody over a certain say poundage, if you weigh more than whatever pounds then you’re going to have back pain. Is that true? No. So there are people who are 300lbs and don’t have back pain; there are people that are 120lbs that have agonizing back pain. So to say that weight gain or weight is the only cause of back pain, that’s not true.

Now it can definitely be a contributing factor. Again, it’s basic physics. The bigger you are (the heavier you are), the more stress and strain that you’re going to put on your body and the more likely it is that you could have pain.

But it usually takes some sort of underlying issue, underlying problem. And it’s typically not just the weight because if it was just the weight then everybody that’s over a certain weight on the scale should have that same sort of thing but we know that’s not the case. But it can definitely put a lot more stress and strain on the body and it can open you up to a lot of the other more serious chronic and crippling conditions as well – things such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes. Those are all associated with weight gain and sedentary living.

Question 3: Can arthritis settle in one’s back?

RC: Right, okay and this is something that affects a lot of people as well, arthritis. Can arthritis settle in one’s back? Or would there be something else going on? You know some people think, “I have arthritis here, I have arthritis there.” But can arthritis actually settle in somebody’s back?

Dr. Matthew Phinney: Yeah great question. You know the scary thing is yeah Liz, it can. If there are things that are going on and they are ignored for a period of say months or years, that’s when over time arthritis can develop. So a lot of times, people will think of arthritis as this thing that all of a sudden just showed up and you’re stuck with it. Arthritis is something that has developed over years in response to the stress and strain and the way that your body is working.

So you go through over time these phases or these stages of what we call degenerative change. So when you start to lose the structure, when you start to lose proper movement, that would be a phase 1. You go into what we call phase 2 of arthritis. That’s when we start to see the discs of the spine or the cartilage of the joints – that’s when you start to see that stuff wearing. Phase 3 and this is when if you want to talk about settling in. This is when you start to see the more permanent damage. This is when spurs start to form – those little jagged edges that you’ll see, bone spurs.

You’ve probably heard of somebody having some sort of arthritis in their shoulder, arthritis in their knee, that’s typically what they’re referring to as far as settling in. Then you get to what we call like a phase 4 and that’s when it’s there and you cannot correct it anymore. That’s when the arthritis is no longer fixable. You have permanent damage and that’s typically when you’re talking and consulting with a pain management specialist or you’re talking to the guy in the white jacket with the scalpel, the surgeon. They want to go in there and they want to do like a fusion or a spinal fusion.

So that’s why we always recommend, anytime there is something going on, getting it corrected now because the longer you wait, the worse it gets. The less likely it is that you can fix it. The less options that you have and the more often than not that it’s set in and it’s permanent and you can no longer fix it.

Question 4: Does heat or ice help for low back pain?

RC: Okay and for the average person with low back pain, does heat or ice help? I guess that’s always the debate.

Dr. Matthew Phinney: Yeah great question. In our office, we always recommend in the beginning we will typically recommend ice. The reason why, ice is great at reducing or decreasing inflammation in a specific area. Anytime you introduce or you put heat onto something that increases blood flow. It increases circulation but it also increases inflammation and inflammation is what causes pain. Right?

So most people when they have inflammation, when they have pain, they take an anti-inflammatory. Correct? So that’s not fixing. They’re just simply masking. That’s not fixing the problem. They are taking these pills. They are taking these medications to mask the symptoms. They feel better temporarily but still the underlying cause is there. And that’s getting back to the arthritis question. That’s why things can go on for months and even years and years and years and people not necessarily know about it because that pain will sort of come and go. They’ll mask it temporarily with medications until it gets to that point where you are at a phase 4 degeneration and you can no longer fix that problem.

RC: I know that you’re using ice to reduce the inflammation but you see a lot of people laying on their back with the heating pad. Is that just because it feels better for them or why would they be doing that?

Dr. Matthew Phinney: Heat definitely feels better at the time, for sure it does. So heat is one of those things that definitely does feel better and then heat is also better for like those long standing sort of chronic muscle strain type situations.

I’ll see that a lot of times with the volleyball players. We take care of a lot of athletes. Olympic level athletes, professional athletes, elite level athletes at all different levels. We’re part of a large network of doctors known as the Wellness Champions who take care of different types of athletes, different professions all over the country. That’s one of the things we’ll commonly see with them is that chronic muscle type strain. And that would be a situation where, yeah, you want to get blood flow. You want to get circulation. You want to get oxygen. You want to get stuff to that area to help it heal. To help loosen it up; to help get it moving.

But more often than not, from a pain standpoint, let’s get rid of the inflammation, get you out of pain. The faster we get you out of pain, the faster that your body is able to actually heal and correct and we can get to the underlying cause of the problem.

RC: That makes perfect sense.

Question 5: Do athletes naturally have stronger backs than the average person?

RC: Last question I have is a fun topic. Do athletes naturally have stronger backs than the average person? Kind of an easy question but I think the underlying question is maybe if they do, why? Let’s talk about sort of the make-up of a really athletic person and what goes on with their back versus the average person.

Dr. Matthew Phinney: Great question. Obviously, the strength of your back, the condition of your back, the condition of your body is dependent on what you’re doing on a daily basis. That’s not rocket science.

If you sit on a couch or you sit at a desk or you lay in bed all day long, well your body is going to adapt to that and really it’s not going to do a whole heck of a lot, physically.

Now if you’re an athlete, you’re a high level athlete, you’re a professional athlete really your job requires your body to function properly. If you’ve seen the schedules, a lot of these professional athletes, they’re doing things from first in the morning till the sun going down – things that will benefit their body. So professional athletes they have to maintain that level of performance usually for a period of 3-5 years – that’s the typical career span of a professional athlete.

Now the average person which we’re comparing that to – we would call those like occupational athletes, people like you and me. Our pay scale is a little bit different, Liz. We don’t get paid quite the same as the professional athletes do and we have to work a lot longer. So we have to maintain ourselves. We have to maintain our level of performance for the next 30-50 years. But we’re not doing the same things that they’re doing, that those professional athletes are doing on a daily basis. Because a lot of times, yeah, we’re at work, we’re either sitting at a desk or we’re doing whatever it is that we do but we’re not up in the morning, we’re not on the bike, we’re not in the pool, we’re not doing the hydro, we’re not doing the things that they are doing.

But in our office we teach a lot of those behaviors – the things that the professional athletes are doing – and we apply them to people like yourself and I and the people that are listening, to the corporate athletes, the occupational athletes – the people that want to perform at an elite level for the next 30-50 years so that they can continue to work and continue to earn an income and continue to enjoy the lives that they create for themselves. So it doesn’t become time to retire and they end up having to get a hip replacement or a knee replacement or back surgery. So that they can enjoy their families, they can enjoy their grandchildren. They can really live the life that they want to live.

RC: Okay, so I think that’s it for the questions I had. It sounds like there are so many facets when it comes to talking about low back pain but you’ve touched on some really interesting aspects of it. So thank you so much for being here with us!

Dr. Matthew Phinney: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Here is the link to the interview.

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This article was reviewed and approved by Dr. Matthew Phinney.

If you enjoyed this article, check out these other articles about Back Pain:
Techniques for Treating Chronic Back Pain
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